In the late 1960s, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences faced an identity crisis as the taste of its members, many of them veterans of the old studio system, began to seem out of step with the rapidly changing times.
Grappling to reward both relevance and excellence, then-academy President Gregory Peck began recruiting younger members and culling the academy rolls of people who hadn’t worked in more than seven years.
“If the charges of a closed shop were ever true,” Peck said in a letter sent to academy members in April 1970, “they will certainly not be true now.”Nearly 50 years later, another academy president is facing a similar crisis, this time over the hot-button issue of race. It’s a controversy that has inspired calls for a boycott and a hashtag but comes with no easy answers.
When the academy nominated an all-white group of actors for a second year in a row last week and failed to give best picture nominations to films about the black experience, such as “Straight Outta Compton,” prominent black Hollywood figures including director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith began calling for an Oscar boycott.
Soon after, academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement promising “big changes” at the organization, but just what those changes might be — and when they would be implemented — are open to question.
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